I need to apologise for taking so long to add part 3 to my series on sensory Bible stories. I have been writing an editing a book about supporting autistic pupils in primary schools, but more about that in another post! You can read the other sensory Bible story posts parts 1 (for children) and part 2 (for teenagers).
Before we begin, I’d like to ask you a question…
Do you REALLY believe that the Bible is accessible to adults with learning disabilities?
By that, I mean, the whole Bible? With its tough issues and difficult situations that can be hard to explain.
“God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the centre of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts. Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. He can clearly see all things. Everything is open before him. And to him we must explain the way we have lived.” Hebrews 4:12-13 ERV http://bible.com/406/heb.4.12-13. Easy English Version.
This is what we believe. We believe that the whole Bible is God’s Word and that it all points to Jesus, the Saviour we all need.
We also believe in the dignity and worth of our members. They are adults and so we need to give them the respect they deserve as adults. We don’t want to hide any of the truth from them.
But we have a diverse group and probably a wider range of ability than any preacher or teacher of the Bible usually has to contend with. From non-verbal and with difficulty responding to and with language, to moderate learning difficulties. (We also have carers to aim our teaching to). We have no way of knowing what people can understand if they cannot speak, but we have decided to presume competence – that is, to assume that they can understand more than they can express. On the other hand, we don’t assume that because someone is verbal, they can understand the complex language and ideas in the Bible that they can sometimes read very well.
But our faith is in the Word of God…and we know that in the person of Jesus. We know we have the Holy Spirit to teach all of us…and that’s why the competence we presume, is actually confidence in the power of God’s Word to teach, rebuke, heal and transform.
So when we start to look at what we will teach, we will look at the Old and the New Testaments. Over the years we have taught about creation, Noah, Abraham through to Moses, Judges, Elijah, Elisha, David, Jonah, Esther, Ruth, Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Jesus’s life, Easter, Christmas, parables, miracles, Paul, Peter, the Holy Spirit and recently we have been revisiting many of our old friends through the lens of Hebrews 11 and learning more about what faith is.
In putting together a teaching session we have gathered some principles that we try to incorporate. A Bible story or theme comes alive to our group through their whole senses and communicating in a variety of ways so that each person has the chance to connect with the story in a way that is good for them. So here are my tips for writing a sensory Bible story for adults with learning disabilities. They are not perfect or definitive – just what we have found works (and we are still learning and adapting).
1. We have started using music as an introduction and as a transition between our tea time and getting ready for our worship and teaching time. We play ‘Come now is the time to worship’.
2. We plan 4-6 sessions so that we can break the teaching into smaller steps and build upon it week by week.
3. Repetition is good. Sound sensory stimulation can be through a refrain, such as learning a memory verse, repeating a Truth (eg. “Faith is believing and trusting in Jesus” – we use Makaton to sign this too so it is sight, sound and action)
4. Repetition is good. We will usually retell the story each week through different mediums. Verbally, using simple language in a Bible reading by one of the members (see point 5); visually through pictures on our screen (see point 6) and through active participation such as drama, a yes/no quiz and sensory experiences. We do this in stages so we don’t overwhelm, each part is short and the aim is that each member of the group can access all or part of the teaching in a way that they learn best.
5. Reading the Bible is encouraged for all who are able to read, listen or respond to pictures. We use the easy English version on http://www.biblegateway.com or http://www.easyenglish.info/bible/ . We have found some good picture Bible books from http://www.10ofthose.com for our members to buy that weren’t too childish.
6. Pictures are the main way that many of our members access the teaching. We don’t rely purely on these, as we have blind members too. However, we have found two amazing websites for Bible pictures which are adult appropriate and tell the story really well. These have been the most effective way of helping our members keep up with and understand what is happening in the stories we are teaching about. http://Www.gardenofpraise.com. And http://www.freebibleimages.com
7. Sensory experiences are matched to the story but we have found less is better. With children, each part of the story has a sensory experience, with our adults, we have found just one or two, along with the other aspects as in points 1-6 can be enough. So for example, water being sprayed when Jonah was thrown into the sea. Or seeds to feel as Ruth collected whet from the ground of Boaz’s field. These experiences help our blind member engage in the story when she cannot see the pictures we are showing.
8. A point to it all. The teaching point is one sentence in our planning. The person leading the talk has to get this point over because it is the application of what we have been learning in the Bible. So for this term our point has been the same each week ; “Faith is believing and trusting in God”. When we did about Elijah, each week was a statement about what God was like because of what we saw in Elijah’s story. “God is…” Statements.
9. Opportunity to respond. We are not feeding facts into people’s brains, but trying to teach and disciple them in their faith, and encourage those who do not have faith in Jesus to consider the Gospel. Through our prayer times, using our prayer trees, practical responses, and through interactive discussions in smaller groups we try to give opportunities for our group to respond to the Bible teaching. One thing we sometimes do is give them an invitation to the great heavenly banquet and if they want to come, they reply to it by bringing it to the cross.
We are hoping to share some of plans and teaching this year and we would appreciate your prayers on how best to do this, whether through publishing them in a book or through an online download. But in the end, I hope you also have confidence to have a go yourself. You can keep it short, simple and at as slow a pace as your group or individual need to go. Please have confidence in God’s Word, use the resources such as the Bible pictures and think about what sensory experiences your group or individual might respond to.
I hope too, that this series on sensory Bible stories has helped some people open up God’s word to people with learning and sensory disabilities. I’d love to hear how you have been doing. Feedback is most welcome and do share with other people, FB pages and print to give out as long as you acknowledge the source. Thank you, in Jesus name.